- Title: India snake charmer village struggles to keep dying tradition alive
- Date: 25th January 2017
- Summary: OLD SNAKE CHARMER PLAYING A TRADITIONAL TUNE ON HIS GOURD FLUTE TO CHARM SNAKE HOODED COBRA WITH ITS TONGUE OUT CHILDREN WATCHING THE COBRA AS IT SWAYS TOWARDS THEM/A CHILD HOLDING A SNAKE COBRA CRAWLING ONTO THE HEAD OF THE SNAKE CHARMER AS HE PLAYS MUSIC ON HIS GOURD FLUTE CHILDREN HOLDING SNAKES IN THEIR HANDS
- Embargoed: 8th February 2017 09:00
- Keywords: Snake charmers Black Cobra venom Jogi Dera India
- Location: JOGI DERA, UTTAR PRADESH/NEW DELHI, INDIA
- City: JOGI DERA, UTTAR PRADESH/NEW DELHI, INDIA
- Country: India
- Topics: Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA00260KVRD1
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: This village in northern India is home to an ancient tribe of snake charmers popularly known as Saperas.
Countless generations have thrived on catching venomous snakes and making them dance to their tunes. But these days, wildlife protection regulations and fewer performance opportunities are making it difficult for snake charmers to earn a living.
Snakes are revered by Hindus in India and snake charmers are considered the followers of Lord Shiva, the blue-skinned Hindu god who is usually portrayed wearing a king cobra around his neck.
They catch the snakes from the wild, de-fang and train them before bringing them out to perform in front of crowds.
Children of Jogi Dera, on the outskirts of Kanpur city, grow up with snakes in their homes, playing with them like family pets.
Buti Nath, a 65-year-old charmer, flips the lid off a basket, and making a cobra pop up. Soon enough the deadly reptile starts swaying to the music of Nath's gourd flute as if in a trance.
"Ever since the days of our forefathers we have been into this profession. It is even older than our forefathers. More than seven generations of our families have been doing this and so are we. It is our bad luck that our children do not have any jobs, any profession or anything to look after them. We are called upon whenever there are dangerous animals coming into your houses or in your fields - we go and catch them with courage," Buti Nath said.
Till about a decade or two ago, snake charmers used to be a regular fixture at Indian bazaars and festivals, mesmerising crowds of onlookers with their ability to control some of the world's most venomous creatures. They would often be the main source of medicines if someone suffered from a snake bite.
But that is slowly changing as authorities crack down on the tribe of snake charmers, citing a 1972 Indian Wildlife Protection Act that prevents them from carrying on with their centuries-old tradition. India formally banned snake charming in 1991.
In Jogi Dera in Uttar Pradesh state which is home to about 1,000 members of the snake charmer community, children still shun school in pursuit of learning the art. But the decrease in business and access to snakes is making some youth change their minds and seek work as rickshaw pullers and construction workers in far-off towns instead.
Villagers say a snake charmer on an average day makes about 200 rupees ($3), which is not sufficient to support a family, even in an impoverished area like theirs. Their earnings are supplemented by donations they get from people who offer them milk, sugar, and bread.
Kuldip Nath, 14, who has been catching snakes with this father since he was six or seven regrets not having gone to school.
Mangal Nath, another young snake charmer, says depriving them of their traditional means of livelihood would drive them to starvation.
"Forest officials have started catching us, they have put out the orders that if you see snake charmers, catch them and lock them behind bars, and free their snakes. If we leave our snakes then what will we do? There is nothing else for us to do. We have no other business, we have no land, no other means of livelihood, we will starve to death," says Nath, holding his one-year-old son in his arms, said.
Animal rights activists say snake charmers inflict severe cruelty on the reptiles, whose numbers are fast dwindling. They say that increased deforestation coupled with rapid urbanization are depleting the population of snakes.
"There is no place in civilized society for people to go around catching snakes and taking them and doing some kind of an entertainment show with snakes. No law in India permits it, the prevention of cruelty to animals does not permit it, the Wildlife Protection Act does not permit it, the Constitution does not permit it and it is also very hazardous because these snake charmers are not immune to the venom. Sometimes accidents happen and it is not very safe for any citizen to go after wild animals like that," says Gauri Maulekhi, a leading animal rights activist in New Delhi.
There are proposals to rehabilitate the snake charmers by using their skills to take care of ailing snakes, creating medicines for snake bites and fighting other poisonous venom - but nothing concrete has been formed so far.
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